Making the best of bad situations

by PHRA PAISAN VISALO and the PHUTTIKA NETWORK, Bangkok Post, July 30, 2007

A booklet of Buddhist reflections encourages readers to recognise what is truly important in their lives

Bangkok, Thailand -- The Buddhist ''Lent'' is not only for monastic men and women to undertake rigorous retreats. The three month period, starting from the first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month, can be a time for everyone to start anew: To contemplate one's life, to vow to correct past mistakes and to initiate new, auspicious steps towards something better.

For the past six years, the Phuttika Network, a coalition of ''socially engaged'' Buddhists, has launched several campaigns specifically designed to coincide with the Lenten period.

In a popular booklet called Chalard Tham Boon (Smart Ways of Making Merit), the coalition recommended scores of ways beyond donating money to monks and temples for people to make merit.

Phra Paisan Visalo, a leader of the network, recently came up with a timely new campaign: Chalard Tham Jai (Smart Ways of Thinking), which encourages people to face crises - be they the loss of property, health problems or problems at work or in relationships - in a more calm and constructive manner. The booklet for the campaign consistently suggests that events that seem unfortunate may actually be blessings in disguise. Below are some excerpts from the booklet.

When losing property

Whining and fuming will not help you retrieve what has been lost. Remember: You still have many other things that might be more valuable than what is gone. But we tend to grieve over our loss (or what we have not yet acquired) rather than appreciate what is already in our hand.

Try to pay attention, and give appreciation, to what you have at the moment, and let go of the past. You will suffer less as a result. Better still, think of how lucky you are not to have lost more than what you did.

Incidents of loss can actually teach you some invaluable lessons: To be more cautious and mindful, and more importantly, to realise that losing and departing is but a fact of life. If you cannot let go of minor things, how will you be able to withstand a bigger loss down the road?

Indeed, you should learn to prepare your mind all the time. When you are aware that nothing will stay with you forever you will not suffer when it is forever gone from your life.

When going bankrupt

Financial bankruptcy does not mean that your whole life will have to collapse, too. Remind yourself of the many good things you still have: Your family and the people you love, your friends, and last but not least, your own life.

You are still a valuable person - to yourself and to many other people. Success and wealth do not make a person; it is the good deeds they have done that count.

It is never too late to start anew, all you need is your breath and your brain. Don't forget to use past mistakes as your teacher. Everyone will have a fall sooner or later, but when it's time to stand up, pick up something to guide you in your next move.

When facing poverty

First of all, ask yourself if you are really poor. Having less than others does not necessarily mean you are poor. A number of people feel poor because they compare themselves with others despite the fact that they already have everything they need. You may not own a car or a house but look again, you already have a lot of comforts in life, don't you?

As soon as you feel contented or satisfied with what you have you will no longer feel poor and miserable.

The feeling that one is poor is largely a matter of perception. When we crave something, we will feel poor. Try to avoid comparing yourself with others. Do not fall prey to the bombardment of advertisements. Appreciate what you have. You will realise that you are not at all poor. You may not have much in terms of material wealth. But you have a loving family, some good friends, good health. To have a full stomach, be able to sleep soundly, to be free of debts - there are so many reasons to feel grateful in your life.

Difficulty can be beneficial: It helps to make you strong, patient and self-reliant. Those spoiled by a comfortable life are usually weak, unable to accept failures and tend to have poor health.

The most important form of personal wealth is one's virtues and wisdom. In Buddhism, the pinnacle of these is called ariya-sap and is a sign of those who are truly rich. Those who have it will feel contented with what they have; and they will have real happiness. This is the kind of wealth we should try to accumulate as much of as possible.

When falling sick

Let just the body fall sick but not the mind. Otherwise you will have twice the problem. True, sickness is not a good thing. But when it happens, learn to accept the fact. You can even benefit from it: Now is an opportunity to get a rest. A number of people use the convalescent period to become closer with their family or to study dharma.

The physical symptoms are also a signal for us to review the way we live. Are we overworked? Do we sleep enough? Are we eating the right food?

Are we deprived of exercise or stressed? One valuable lesson from getting sick is to learn to make our lifestyle a healthier one. More importantly, the physical ailments teach us about the impermanence of life, that sickness is part and parcel of living. Such awareness will teach us to let go of our attachments, and also not to be reckless. We will come to appreciate every second we have left in our life as well as the value of good health.

When losing an organ

If the loss of a body part is needed to lengthen your life, so be it. Life is more important than any given part of the body. Even in the case of an accident where amputation is required you can still consider yourself fortunate: After all, you are still alive and not undergoing a worse ordeal.

The value of your life is in your good deeds, not in your physical appearance. As long as you continue your good deeds you should be able to respect yourself. The loss of an organ should not be an obstacle to doing good things, both for yourself and others.

True, one's daily life may become more difficult, but it is the mind that cannot accept the change that can cause the most suffering. The more one clings to the past, the more difficult it is to accept the present. The best thing to do now is to let go of the past, accept the reality, and move on with a steady mind.

To begin anew with changes to your body cannot be too difficult. Human beings have a wonderful capacity of adjusting to anything. It may be hard today, but tomorrow, things will become smoother.

Feeling unhappy at work

You should find out the cause(s) to unhappiness at work. Is the job too difficult? Is there no end in sight? Unfriendly colleagues? Unfair bosses? Low salary? Don't forget to ask yourself: How much do you put in to this job?

Being able to work happily comes when you love what you are doing. Then, even if it is difficult and there is no sign of a successful result or the boss is treating you badly, you can still derive happiness from your work.

To love what you do may come when you feel confident in it or see its meaning - that it is serving the public or people you love or that it enables you to maximise your potential.

It is not difficult to find happiness at work: Be committed to what you do. Do not let yourself drift away or expect quick results. It requires mindfulness, the ability to keep your mind in the present, to do the work at hand. Happiness will follow as a result of this.

What you do is not as important as how you do it. Do you work because you like it or because of the money? Are you working with concentration and mindfulness or is your mind drifting? If your mind is not in the right state, you will have difficulty at work no matter how many times you change your job. We may not be able to have the job of our choice, but we can choose to do what we do happily.

When losing a job

At least you will now have the time to look for a job that really suits you. It could even be better than your old one. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, was fired by his own company. He recalls the incident as one of the best things that ever happened to him. After being fired, Jobs started several new projects including what became a highly successful animation company as well as a company that developed the technology used in iPods.

Losing a job may lead some of us to go back and help our parents at home. For others, it is a time to do something that they have long wanted to do but have been putting off, entering the monkhood, for example, or studying dharma.

Do not worry that you will be jobless for the rest of your life. Never let your confidence be eroded by one incident. One important piece of advice: Try to make the best of the free time you have. Do not waste it by being despondent, idle, or just drifting away. Shake off past disappointment and move ahead: Better days are waiting for you. Life does not end today.

When heartbroken

Disappointment in love does not mean the end of everything. You may have lost something, but you still have many precious things left. To fail at love does not mean you are good for nothing. So many people still love and care for you: Your parents, family and friends. Do not let just one person determine your value or control your fate.

The past is the past. As long as you do not carry it or cling to it, it can have no effect on you. The more you carry it around, the more suffering you will have.

That person may not be your soul mate. To lose him or her may actually give you the freedom to search for the one who really suits you.

Being heartbroken also teaches us that life is not all about success. Disappointments are a fact of life. They also make us stronger so that we will be able to withstand future disappointments.

When facing criticisms

First of all, ask yourself if the criticisms are based on the truth and are fair. If they are, even in part, you should consider them when trying to improve yourself and your work. Just take the gist of it and ignore the accusatory or inaccurate words.

Lord Buddha said the wise one who shows us the mistake is guiding us toward a treasure. Look deeply. In criticism lies many invaluable things. They help us to see the other side of the truth - something we or our friends may not be able to see before. Or they help us to understand the speakers better and to know how to deal with them in the future.

Another valuable lesson when one is being criticised is to realise the truth of life, that praise and criticism are just two sides of the same coin. Nobody has ever received only praises. The more one has praises bestowed on them the more he or she is subject to gossip and criticism. Thus one should not be swayed by either praise nor criticism.

Indeed, the more we enjoy receiving praise, the more upset we are likely to be when facing criticism. If we don't want to suffer from being criticised we should avoid be overjoyed when praised, for the louder we laugh, the harder we will cry.

'Chalard Tham Jai' is published by the Phuttika Network. Call 02-883-0592 or 02-886-9881 or visit (Thai only) for more information.

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